|CART used to fill the Fontana grandstands up before Tony George split the sport and destroyed it. In the background is the grandstands just prior to starting of engines for an IRL race at Fontana. Sad, isn't it? Tony thought he had a better idea.|
This is the year that Indy cars are to return to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. But with an Indy car fatality on a NASCAR track last year in Las Vegas, some — such as NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson — are saying that Indy cars are not safe racing on oval tracks.
However, Auto Club Speedway and Indy Car officials — along with another high-profile NASCAR driver — disagree. They all say there is no need for concern when Indy returns to Fontana on Sept. 24 and 25.
The disagreement stems from a tragic accident at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16 that took the life of Dan Wheldon.
However, there are differences between the two NASCAR tracks among other things that make Auto Club Speedway an ideal venue for Indy car racing, said track spokesman David Talley.
“I think you have to look at the Indy series," Talley said. “The Indianapolis 500 is the premier event and it’s an oval track. It is the heritage, the history and the tradition of what this series was built on."
Talley said the Las Vegas accident was a shame, but should not shut down the series.
“It was certainly an unfortunate accident," Talley said of Wheldon’s death. “In the Indy car series, safety is a priority. They’re all about safety. Unfortunately, this was a perfect storm. There were a lot of different things going on at Vegas that were bad timing and unfortunate for everyone."
Which means these things won’t repeat themselves at Auto Club Speedway, Talley said.
“We are different," he said. “There are several variables when comparing Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We’re a two-mile track. They’re one and a half miles. They have 20-degree banking. We have 14-degree."
But there’s more, Talley said.
“The final thing is Auto Club Speedway was built for Indy car racing by Roger Penske," Talley said. “You look at the new tracks and they’re built for NASCAR and high banking to get the speeds up. They’re shorter tracks, which means there’s less time to react."
Talley added the track has put in more safety features in the last decade since the final time Indy cars raced in Fontana.
“We’ve done stuff to the track since Indy cars left in 2003," he said. “In 2004 we put up safer barriers. They’re always being upgraded and reviewed. We’ve paved grass areas, so that’s not an issue any longer, and we’ve paved most of the backstretch."
Will Phillips, vice president of technology for the series, agreed with Talley, saying no sudden changes to the track at this point are necessary.
“IndyCar continues to look at every track it goes to with safety in mind," Phillips said. “We have had discussions with both driver groups and engineering groups from all the teams and intend to do further testing with the cars to ensure that to the best of our ability
the right decisions are made. IndyCar inspected the track prior to the testing carried out in November and we will continue to follow its customary protocol of on-site inspections and on-track testing to confirm the compatibility of the new car to the racetrack."
And in a published interview, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart said that while the Wheldon death is a tragedy, it doesn’t mean everything gets changed all at once in any sport.
“It really boils down to the basics of: it’s auto racing," Stewart said. “Auto racing, football, hockey, they are all dangerous sports. But we all love to do it and the fans love to watch it. It’s just an aspect of our sport and everybody involved knows that and understands that and accepts it going into that. Fontana Herald News